Reality TV shows began by offering an intimate look into the private lives of specific groups – the homes of the Kardashians, the rich lifestyle in Chelsea, the fake tanning salons of Essex. Many people have been made famous and wealthy by exposing their lives for millions to watch. However, the industry has deteriorated. This format has become tiresome for viewers who seek new and fresh programmes. This has placed pressure on producers of Reality TV to create more controversy and more drama to reach more people. This has been at the expense of those who offer their lives to the screen. Now, people seek out places on Reality TV for the sole purpose of becoming famous (or at least Instagram famous). They often sign up to shows with the promise of fame and fortune but are subjected to brutal manipulation of their image, self and emotions for the purpose of increasing viewing figures. What was once light entertainment watched for salacious gossip, fights and betrayal has now become a battle to create the most controversial show on TV at the expense of its participants. The question is not should each show be cancelled after a tragedy but whether there is a universal problem in the Reality TV industry which should be addressed.
Viewers are no longer satisfied with seeing a small portion of a person’s daily life but now want to know their precise movements. The desire to know a person through this one-way experience is largely encouraged by the intimate look into their lives via YouTube GRWMs and Instagram stories. Vloggers make their wealth filming every single detail of their day-to-day life —so is it any wonder Reality TV producers now feel the pressure to do the same?
However, we often forget what this means for those involved. Reality stars are pressured to film more of their lives, taking a detrimental toll on their mental health. The latest series of Married at First Sight Australia was halted because producers were furious that the contestants weren’t filming more of their private moments. Viewers were angered if they didn’t see the action and only heard it, some now believe they have a right to see every aspect of participants lives, both during and after filming. The separation between a series’ end and return to real life has now become obscured by social media, as contestants capitalise on their fame following their stint to procure a greater wealth and following.
Often, participants are entirely at the mercy of the editing process. The villains and victims are decided in the editing room as producers manipulate events and altercations to project two sides; good and evil. This is particularly prominent in Love is Blind which was recently released on Netflix. Couples are pressed to reach the wedding altar before they decide whether to say ‘I do’ or ‘I don’t’ regardless of the other person. They are encouraged not to leave prematurely, even if they want to, but are pressured into participating in a mock wedding. All of this is engineered to create a ‘shock factor’. It is manipulated so that, in the moment, the camera can zoom in on a stranger’s face as a single tear falls. Watching Kenny plead with the cameras to stop recording his pain, as they continued, felt wrong but had somehow become part of the narrative. Watching the cameraman chase after Gianinna as she ran from the altar after being jilted, watching it pause as she tripped down a hill, muddying her wedding dress, appeared like a private moment that I had been drawn into believing I had the right to see. Or watching the carefully curated destruction of Jessica into a pantomime villain—brilliantly edited to elicit no sympathy. People feel little remorse when abusing her online because the show has manipulated her portrayal to elicit no empathy or feeling.
Appearing on a reality television show leaves people vulnerable and isolated. They have experienced horrifying treatment from social media, public and press alike. These ordinary people show a small percentage of themselves to the masses, their portrayals highly manipulated by the editing and producers depending on the storylines they choose, and are left to face the consequences. Understandably, this triggers mental health problems and loneliness. The entire genre has descended into a competition over who can cause the most controversy, regardless of the person at the centre. However, the mounting online abuse participants suffer has only worsened the issue. The entire format of reality TV has descended into something wrong and barbaric which only creates mouldable stars seeking fifteen minutes of fame. That, however, has always been the case with this genre. The problem has worsened because online abuse has excelled. People are now faced with constant harassment sent directly to them. We should all Be Kind and realise that the person who is presented to us on-screen is a fictional character, just like you’d find with any other television programme.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, then please seek support – you are not alone.
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